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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Cobble Gobbler -- 1

And for the single best gear purchase of 2015:  the Specialized CG-R "Cobble Gobbler" seatpost.

Here it is on some random bike, not my own.
It is not overstating things to say this seatpost redefines long-distance cycling.

On the Focus prior to the start of the Natchez Trace 444.
It turns any bike into a plush ride without adding serious weight and without looking like it belongs on a hybrid.

I have two -- one mounted on the Focus, for long-distance performance-oriented riding, and one mounted on the Salsa, for commuting and, I hope, touring applications.  Sam, I know, is riding at least one.

Salsa Colossal with Cobble Gobbler.
Sam with the Cobble Gobbler on the Habanero on a road that looks like it could stand to use some cobbles gobbled.
Specialized advertises 18mm of travel and touts the single-bolt attachment.  There is about 25mm setback, perfect for most road-bike applications.  Bike Radar reports 260g weight; that's about 60g more than the standard for high-end carbon setback posts in 27.2mm diameter.  (For example, the Easton EC-90 is listed at 200g.) 

The one-bolt attachment system with rails that clamp in from the side is a real advantage over the industry standard -- clamping down from above -- which I can only explain by subpar materials being used in components in past decades.  (My theory:  subpar materials require more robust design; a fixed platform with a top-clamp seems likely to be a stronger design ceteris paribus.)  Other makers do use a one-bolt attachment approach, frequently on proprietary seatposts like the aero posts on a Cervelo.

I've noticed three things about the Cobble Gobbler. 

  1. One is that it is more comfortable.  Duh.  That's the point.  
  2. Two is that it seems to reduce fatigue.  If, as many say about compression garments, constant micro-control of vibrations is a tiring endeavor, reducing vibrations through the seatpost should rest your muscles while riding.  
  3. Three is that it seems to enhance bike control on technical roads, like a pot-holed descent.  Like any shock-absorbtion system, helping to keep your weight planted firmly on the road rather than bouncing with every bump should have that effect.
Use model:  the Cobble Gobbler almost totally eliminates the variable of back-end discomfort on long rides. 

300 miles in and still sitting.  That's a new experience.
 Not totally.  But as close as I can imagine its doing.

The Cobble Gobbler is so good that even at $200 a pop, I have two.  It is so good that when I sit on the Neuvation or the Gunnar, two long-time favorites in my bike lineup with their standard seatposts (Thomson Elite in one case; Deda carbon seatpost in the other), I am struck by just how harsh is the ride. 

It's so good that I now define my future bike purchases by whether the frame takes a 27.2mm post.  For example, the beautiful Specialized Venge, which tempts me not just a little as a replacement for the Focus, is out because of its proprietary post.  Note to Specialized: fit the Cobble Gobbler technology on the Venge post and I'll be sold.

The Specialized CG-R seatpost is my favorite new piece of gear for 2015, hands down.  It's highly recommended. 


Monday, December 21, 2015

Bikes Direct -- get what you pay for

I bought the Gravity single-speed mid-fat bicycle from Bikes Direct for $299 shipped last winter.  It's been a fair amount of fun.  I swapped out the flat-bars and cheap stem, saddle and post, for drop bars with a Thomson stem and post and the OEM saddle from the Focus.  It's a cool-looking rig thusly built.

Going out on a limb and saying it's the coolest-looking cheapo rig I've ever seen>
The rear wheel predictably went far south with well less than 250 miles.  This is not unlike the Bikesdirect rear wheel from the old Motobecane fixie, which Sam had to true and retrue no fewer than 10 times over a single 200K permanent back in 2008.  When these wheels go bad, there is no recovering them -- cheap spokes and cheap rims are made for 500 miles or less of use.

What's amusing is the exchange I had with Bikesdirect.  Here is Larry's e-mail to me:

"Stand behind" in Internet speak means "tell you that it's your fault."
And my rather clever response:

I'm right, of course, though it does not get me very far.  I don't think I needed the lesson, but I learned it anyway:  if you buy a bike for $299 online, it is bought as-is.  Doesn't mean I won't be doing what I can do upset the good BBB rating Bikesdirect advertises on its website.

Profile Design T3+ Aerobars -- 2

Second best piece of new gear for 2015:  new aerobars.
With carbon extensions, picture from ProfileDesign.com.  Aluminum also available.  I have both.
My first aerobars were the Lemond bars marketed by Scott.  I mounted them on the Cannondale and wrapped them in leopard-print bar tape.  I loved hauling down Rabbit Creek Road in the aero position at what at the time seemed to be the unconscionable speed of 50 mph.  (Damon knows Rabbit Creek as the cross-street where we parked for the tune-up ride along Turnagain Arm prior to the 2013 Big Wild Ride.)
Rabbit Creek descends from Hillside Drive to the Seward Highway at the South end of Anchorage.
The scary part was passing one cross-street, what name I do not remember, that was gravel but nonetheless well-used.  The result was occasional cars to navigate and predictable gravel in the intersection.  But above and below that road, it was pure hauling.  (I should note that, it's being the '80s, I usually rode without a helmet in those days.  I get chills just thinking about it.)

My next aerobars were the ubiquitous Profile Design Carbon Stryke bars, mounted first on the IRO fixie, then on the Novara, and later the Gunnar for triathlon use.  The Carbon Stryke were of Profile Design's common species of under-mount bars, with pads mounted just above the base bars and the extensions mounted underneath.
Carbon Stryke, picture from ProfileDesign.com.  I cannot believe they are still selling these.
If I have a primary gripe, it is the weird bends in the extensions that cause them to flare outward.  I gather that means you get a straight forearm position (because the pads sit wide of the mount-points), but no other aerobar made has that design.  And I don't like it.

Second problem:  those cups and pads, branded the "J19."  They are mind-blowingly uncomfortable.  Profile Design nonetheless put them on every bar it made from at least 2006 (when I bought the Carbon Stryke) until -- well, it still does, although there is finally an option.

Third problem:  the "rise" function on these bars means mounting the cups above the brackets with plastic spacers.  Doing so does nothing to clear up the base bars for comfortable riding (because the brackets stay in place) and has the perverse effect of placing the cups too high for the extensions, in effect putting your natural hand position above the end of the bars.  Truly the worst of all worlds.

I've also tried stubby aerobars, including the PD T2+ DL.  Going for them is the above-bar mount option, giving a slight ability to squeeze the hands underneath to encounter the base bars.
In their favor:  they actually look good on a road bike in a way full-length extensions do not.
T2+ DL mounted on the old Cervelo prior to the National 24-hour, 2013.
The T2+ DL were just never comfortable over long miles.

Not the perfect place for your arms to contact the bars.  At the Mid-Atlantic 12-hour, 2014.
And finally, the floppy-cup version that clears the base bars for comfortable riding in touring applications.  These are incredibly heavy and those springs wear out, causing them to rattle.
Sam has ridden these successfully in a number of events.  I have never particularly liked them.
In the high-end aerobar market, by which I mean "the aerobars that actually work well": being cheap, I skipped over innovation after innovation.  I got to where aerobars seemed a necessary evil for triathlon use but not something I would voluntarily mount on any bike.

Finally real innovation has found the aerobar market and just when I decided, "f*** it" and ponied up the dollars necessary to get the right bars. (The other innovation to intervene is Amazon, which made the nice PD bars available for what used to be bargain prices.)  Enter the T3+:

T3+ on the Focus prior to the Natchez Trace 444.
Three innovations that answer every problem from above.  First, the bars mount above the base-bars and are sold with variable height risers that move the entire aerobar as much as 80mm above the base bars.  (Mine are raised 30mm here, enough to bring them nearly level with the saddle and to clear room for the hands underneath.  After substantial back-and-shoulder fatigue in the Natchez Trace 444, I will take that to 50mm for 2016.)

Pretty sure this is the 50mm rise option.
Second, they have new cups and pads -- Profile Design is now selling the J4 cup.  It is affirmatively comfortable, as in, 27 hours on the bike and no forearm discomfort whatsoever.  Same story after the SR600 four weeks earlier.  The cups bolt onto the same brackets as the gosh-awful old J19 cups, so I now have these on the triathlon bike as well.

There is actually an uber-cush 2 cm pad, which I have purchased but not yet used, marketed for those cups.  You can expect to see me with that on a ride or two this coming year.
J4 cups and pads.  These are actually affirmatively comfortable.
Third, those double-bend extensions, which first drop down before riding back up to receive the hands.  Unlike flat bars, no need to bend the wrists to hold on. Unlike ski bends, no reaching for the sky.  The grips are right where the hands naturally encounter them.
Some makers brand this design "wrist relief."  It's an appropriate descriptor.
I got over the long-bars-on-a-road-bike problem when I tried these the first time.  My position here is about the normal "ultracyclists aero position" -- not as tucked as the time trial position but not ridiculously extended, either.

To a triathlete, those arms are extended a little too far.  On a long road, it's about perfect.
Here's the thing about the new Profile Design aerobars:  using aerobars is not a bitter pill.  It's a comfortable fourth position (after drops, flats, and hoods).  I'm reaching 30 years of riding road bikes for the joy of riding road bikes and this is the first time I've found the aerobars to be something I seek rather than avoid.

End note:  PD is not the only maker to have experimented with design, and the primary features of these -- double bend extensions, comfortable pads, well-conceived riser systems -- are now well dispersed.  Look at offerings by 3T (reasonably affordable from Merlin) if you are comparison shopping.  (Zipp used to have a similar offering, but I do not see the double-bend extensions currently listed.)

Conclusion:  if you, like me, swore off aerobars because of one too many bad experiences with old Profile Design offerings, it's time to get back in the market.  My second best gear purchase in 2015.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Compass Chinook Pass EL Tires -- 3

Halfway through the count, I'm now at the Compass Chinook Pass EL tires.  These were literally a 2014 addition, as they are a present from Sam for Christmas last year, but the first ride with them was not until February 2015.  So they count for this list.

From the Compass Bicycles website.
Heine has the Compass tires made to his specifications in, I think, Japan.  He is a proponent of ultra-supple and lightweight sidewalls.  Compass tires are famous for smooth rolling.  Somehow they accomplish this without being seriously more fragile than other makes.

I like how they look.  No uber-bling graphics, no weird coloration.  Just black on black with a small decal, the color of which changes depending on the tire size.

Chinook Pass tire mounted on the new wheel on the Salsa.
I also like the names.  Chinook Pass is an actual geographic feature in Washington State, where Compass Bicycles is located.  A "chinook" is a weather phenomenon characterized by warm winds blowing out of the mountains -- Sam and I grew up with them in Alaska.  So riding Chinook Pass tires feels somehow like home.

And the 28mm Chinook Pass tires perform extremely well.  My first ride on them that I remember was on Ascension, the silly-hilly ridge hopping endeavor Damon created in Gambrill State Park.  Descents on Ascension are steep and technical.  I found myself laying the Focus over in the turns with a degree of confidence I have not frequently enjoyed on a bike.  A ski, maybe, but not frequently a bike.  The tires, wheels, and frame worked together to make a particularly excellent and stable ride.

I have since ridden the Chinook Pass tires on the Fl├Ęche, a likewise hilly and occasionally technical route through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia; the Big Savage SR600K, crossing many of the major mountain ridges in eastern West Virginia; and most recently, for commuting purposes on pot-holed streets in Indianapolis.  (Crime, yes, but if I had a Ferrari, I like to think I'd drive that too.)  The tires roll like a dream in every use.

A note:  I broke at least one plastic tire iron mounting these.  Then I learned that mounting tires on rims that are tubeless compatible is a unique process.  Heine describes it here.  Note, in particular, the instruction to place the bead "in the curved well in the center" of the rim rather than on the shelf next to the rim wall.  On old rims that wasn't an issue.  On tubeless compatible rims it is.  Having figured this out, I'm golden.

Screenshot from the article linked in the prior paragraph.
At $76 per tire, these aren't cheap.  It's hard to make a strong "buy" argument for them when you can pick up Vittoria Evo CX in 25mm for $36 a piece at Merlin, or Specialized S-Works Turbo for $55 apiece.  (On the other hand, I just made an argument for not one, but two, pairs of leather lace-up shoes in the prior post.)




I don't know of tests running these three tires against each other, but the Vittorias and the Specializeds land in the top 5 in most of the tests of major-manufacturer rubber.  They outweigh the Compass Chinook Pass by a few grams.  But just a few.

If, however, you can work out the Compass Chinook Pass as a gift -- well, you can be sure they are well worth the thank-you card.

In sum:  number 3 on the list of my favorite new gear for 2015.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dromartis -- 4

I learned about the Dromarti leather lace-up shoes from an uncharacteristically positive review in Bicycle Quarterly maybe a year ago.  Heine, who holds nearly everything that has been produced since 1985 to the flame in the name of objective reporting, simply gushed over the Dromartis.  I've gotten hooked on performance-touring cycle shoes in the past 18 months or so and decided to give the Dromartis a try.

The shoes are sold at www.dromarti.com.  It's a great website.  Martin, from the UK, sells four things.  Black two-bolt (mountain/touring) shoes.  Brown two-bolt shoes.  Black three-bolt (racing) shoes.  And brown three-bolt shoes.  He used to have them made in Italy, but moved the manufacture to Taiwan.  I say "great."  Better quality, lower price.  And a real government.

Here are the Brown Race shoes, picture from Dromarti.com:
OK, we can confess, the guy's got good-looking legs and a better looking bike.  But those are awesome-looking shoes.

And, also from Dromarti, here are the black race shoes:

Word is that David Millar -- yes, that David Millar -- is riding in the three-bolt shoes.  Not racing, I assume, as they are muy heavy for competitive applications.

I now have the brown and black, both, in the two-bolt touring configuration.  The brown have become my go-to long-distance shoes for every purpose except for car-supported racing.  The black, new this week, are my commuting shoes in Indianapolis.

An amusing true anecdote:  I was out for a tune-up ride prior to the Natchez Trace 444.  I passed some guy kitted in some TDF team kit.  He caught me at the light.  "Dude, did you just pass me while riding in dress shoes?"  

They come with that cool shoe bag.  What to do with that, I'm not sure.
A few things:
  1. The 2-bolt version work fine as walking shoes.  For touring applications, it is hard to imagine a better shoe, short of simply wearing tennies with platform pedals.
  2. They look good enough to wear with jeans or khakis at the office.  It's a tad goofy, because they are obviously cycling shoes, but it's not unprofessional.  And with the recessed cleats you can walk on tiled floors without a problem.
  3. They perform quite well for commuter riding.  I can flog the bike out the stoplight without feeling too flexy in the soles.
  4. The laces hold a knot without any problem.  If you worry about laces in the chain, no need with the Dromartis.  (I double-knot, but that is de rigeur.)
  5. Riding long distances they perform as well as can be expected for a heavier shoe with less-than-perfectly-stiff soles.  I suffered a horrific case of hot-foot on the abbreviated Glacier 1000K last June, but as Sam can attest, gear cannot be blamed for any challenges on that particular ride.  (And with the flexibility of laces, I adjusted the fit and relieved the discomfort.)  On the Fleche (400K with loads of climbing) and SR600 (600K with even more climbing), they were all one could ask for in a comfortable all-day shoe.
Here are the brown two-bolt on the Fleche.  Don't hold the shoes responsible for the skinny ankles.

Leather shoes, wool socks.  Are we certain this is cycling?
In sum:  even at $295 a pair, the Dromartis are a strong buy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gear of the Year: Ballista -- 5

A fair amount of new gear in the house in 2015.  For an EOY blog feature, I'm counting down my five favorite.  Parameters:  none, except that the gear on the list has to be credibly biking related.

This post is about the Bontrager Ballista.

Here's the Ballista in yellow, if by "yellow" you mean "chartreuse," which is the color both Sam and I have.

The Ballista is intended to be aero, light, visible, and broadly functional.  According to Trek, in one of the least informative product descriptions available on a manufacturer website:

Ancient Greek missile.  Gotcha.  Next, Trek will replace the Emonda with the "Trojan Horse."
The Aerogeeks review starts out inauspiciously, parroting the line about ancient Greek weaponry.   It continues to duplicate a Bontrager claim about aerodynmics that the Ballista beats aero-road offerings from Giro, Specialized, and Louis Garneau in "testing at 30 mph at a helmet angle of 30 degrees."  Helpful so far as it goes, but I suppose I need to buy a different helmet if I conclude my own angle is closer to 25, or perhaps 35, degrees.

Aerogeeks continue to report a real weight of 272 gms, not far above a true road helmet.  The S-Works Prevail, high-end road helmet that does not purport to be designed to optimize aerodynamics, claims a weight of 214 gms.  And the low-end Specialized Echelon is reported by Specialized to weigh "about 305 with out a visor".

What it replaces.

My own aero helmet experience includes Giro's early offering in road-friendly aero helmets, the "Air Attack," and two time trial helmets in the sperm configuration.

Giro Advantage 2 Time Trial Helmet.
The Advantage 2 works fine for Ironman use, but seems like it might be a tad uncomfortable over long miles.  In particular, one worries about what happens in a cross wind.  Or if you turn your head.

The Giro Air Attack, below, is both heavy and hot.  In fact, it appears the primary benefit is that it makes the wearer look mean.  Which is no small benefit, of course.

The Giro Air Attack.  It's method of attacking the air is not to let any in.  Which sucks when it is hot.

Then there's the white skull cap below.  Hard to find in the market these days.
No, not me, but it looks aero.  From American Flyers.
In contrast with the Giro Air Attack, the Ballista has a good venting system.  So much so that when I raced in mine in October, the crew taped the vents over to keep my head warm through the night.

Black tape over front vents.
I can also report that it the Ballista is light, comfortable to wear, and broadly functional.  After 27 hours with it on my melon back in October, I did not suffer the helmet fatigue that I frequently expect on a long ride.

Lots of other things hurt, but the head was fine.
It looks good enough to wear for an afternoon ride -- don't burden the poor Ballista with the aesthetic failings of its wearer in the pictures here.  Given the aero design and bling factor, I probably would not wear it for the daily commute, unless other options were truly foreclosed.

I have to take the aero benefits on faith.  Visibility benefits seem to be real based on the below picture.

At least the car sees you for the split second before it mows you down, which helps in the tort suit.
And, here's the empirical study:  there is a 100% correlation between my wearing the Ballista and having the best ultra-race experience of my biking career.  Seems dispositive, no?

So, a truly wearable helmet that supposedly makes me faster.  Number five on my list of favorite new gear for 2015.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Gilbraltar Road Climb

One more tick-list climb and descent now in the books:  Gilbraltar Road, from Santa Barbara to the ridge above town, 3500 or so feet over 8 miles.  Others have reported in detail on this climb.  (And here.)

We stayed in a rental place just off of Foothill Road, bottom left of the map.  Foothill intersects Mountain near the Sheffield Reservoir; at that point, the climb begins in earnest.  Gilbraltar Road starts shortly thereafter.

The Climb

With a low point of about 300 feet above the ocean and a high point of about 3800 feet, the total net  elevation gain ran about 3500 feet.  Strava reports closer to 4200 in total elevation over the 24 mile round trip.

The flat part in the middle is the wonderful road along the top of the ridge with views into the mountains to the northeast and out to the water to the southwest.

Sam set against the southwesterly ocean view.

The Specs

I was riding the blue Cannondale (pic, right), which I bought in 1989 at age 16 and Sam has maintained in his garage for the past 15 years or so.  The Cannondale has become my go to west-coast bike for those trips when I don't want to carry my own.  It currently has somewhat odd gearing -- 50-39 front and 12-25 rear.  (There would surely be a story there if anybody could remember how it happened.)

As the picture shows, Sam was on the new Ti Cycles frame built with Ui2 gearing, Dura Ace wheels, Enve fork, stem and bars, Specialized Cobble Gobbler post, and Compass tires.  It's a lovely build.  And, apparently, a nice ride.

Of course, much of the time on the ascent I was in 39-25, and at that, out of the saddle.  But I've always ridden hills that way anyway.  The result, Strava tells me, is a fairly high estimated wattage for the two hour ride.  I've never seen Strava estimated wattage to be anything other than inflated by a good 10-20%.

Be assured, I'm not in that good of shape.

Going Down

And the descent turned out to be a marvelous ride.  Gilbraltar Road is a twisty, turny, windy stretch of tarmac with plentiful sharp edges with enormous penalties for missing a turn.  We took it slow.  Which meant a nice long technical slalom course down the mountain with mostly perfect blacktop and only occasional gravel in the corners.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Bike-Free Zone

I've been accustomed to viewing non-US societies as substantially more bicycle dependent than we are in the US.  It becomes easy to judge the first world as car crazy and so wealthy that bicycles are a third best alternative (car, then public transit, then . . .).

After a week in Lebanon, including one day in the capital Beirut, I am placated just a tad by the American situation.  In Lebanon, nary a bicycle in sight.  That in the affluent neighborhoods of Kaslik and Jounieh.  That on or around the college campuses of Universite Saint Esprit, American University in Beirut, and Universite Saint Josef.  That in the mountains north and east of town.  And that in the metropolitan city of Beirut.

OK, I saw two bikes.  At the end of the day I spent walking around Beirut, as I headed back northeast toward Kaslik along the very local-feeling Gemmayzeh Street, one commuter passed me on a city-bike of the ilk one might expect to see in Paris or D.C.  I was too slow to snap a picture.  The other?  Mounted on top of a Mercedes held for sale behind plate glass at the Mercedes dealership along Charles Helou, the major cross-town boulevard.

Still too few.  Not that some aren't trying.

I saw other such signs, too, but -- no bikes.  Huh.
Perhaps obviously, it says "Beirut by Bike."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Park Tool PCS-10 Repair Stand

I've used cheap bike workstands forever. Mostly of the tripod variety. They work OK, but there's always one compromise or another.

Recently I've had several simultaneous bike projects going on, and constantly swapping bikes has become a bit of a hassle, so with the need to pick up another bike stand anyway, I figured I may as well finally get a Park Tool stand. The PCS-10, to be precise.




The PCS-10 comes moderately disassembled. I guess they figure that assembling the stand is a skill filter. Anyone who can't do that probably shouldn't be working on their bike anyway.

OMG! What do I do with all these parts???

One of the real advantages of a Park stand over a cheapo Forte or something is the seat-tube clamp. The PCS-10 clamp has a nice cam action to quickly clasp and release the seatpost, and a little round thingy that enables 360-degree rotation.

If you had two of these you could be a lobster for Halloween.

Inserting a bike is about what you'd expect.

Why yes, yes those are Schwalbe Ultremos on a fixie.

The stand is surprisingly sturdy. I didn't expect much, but the moment-arm is long enough and the tube angle steep enough that there is really no inclination for the bike to tip. Quite refreshing after my tripod stand which seems always ready to tip over.

While I was at it I also got the Park Tool 106 accessory tray. To be honest $30 seems a little expensive for some molded plastic and bent metal, but it would cost me a lot more than $30 for a far inferior solution if I were to try to make my own.

Accessory tray. For all my accessories.

Assembling it was even easier than the workstand.

Disassembled

Assembled
The accessory tray integrates directly into the quick release collar on the PCS-10 for a sturdy nut-/bolt-/tool-storage location.

Plenty of room for lubes, tools, rags, and even a scale to weigh parts before they go on...
My verdict on the PCS-10 is unabashedly positive. Yes, there are cheaper repair stands. I've had three, and they all worked, but none were as stable or as well built as this one. There are also more expensive repair stands (many of them from Park Tool in fact!). When I get a larger garage, I'll probably get one. But the PCS-10 is a solid mid-range workstand that I can imagine lasting for many years.

Before I forget, though, there was one problem. The repair stand did not come with the required nuts to hold the legs in place!

Anything missing?
Now that's a pretty minor problem. I'm sure I can find them at Home Depot. Still, annoying that they're missing.